The Edinburgh volcano

Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh. Image from Wikipedia.

Edinburgh – home of the Scottish Parliament, Military Tattoo, Princes Street and gardens, Scott memorial, Murrayfield, Valvona and Crolla’s food emporium, sundry pubs (!), the fringe, volcanoes … eh, volcanoes?

Surprising as it may be to some people, Edinburgh plays host to a great variety of igneous rocks. The most obvious, and in our case the most interesting, are the volcano remnants of Arthur’s Seat and the Castle Rock. These are long extinct and date from the Lower Carboniferous, over 300 million years ago. Arthur’s Seat, the larger of these, is assumed to be the main structure, with Castle Rock a subsidiary or satellite (or, if you prefer, parasitic) vent. These are central pipe vents from pipe conduits, c.f. linear conduits as associated with fissure eruptions.

The rock of Arthur’s Seat is mainly a vent agglomerate with several crystal phyric microgabbro eruption pipes (Lion”s Head and Lions Haunch vents are so called as at a distance the remnants resemble a lion lying down). These are difficult words – let’s explain what they mean. An agglomerate is a debris mix, part explosive and part vent collapse, of ash and lava. Crystal phyric refers to the presence of some minerals present with larger crystals than the background rock. The presence of gabbro in the conduit pipes indicates these volcanoes erupted a basaltic lava: gabbro has the same mineralogical composition as basalt but is intrusive (did not erupt) and is coarse grained. Micrograbbo, Dolerite, or Diabase to some authors, has the same composition, but has a grain size intermediate between basalt and gabbro, smaller than a grain or rice. The magma that forms gabbro and micrograbbo is rich in iron and magnesium, and poor in silica. The grain size depends on how quickly it cooled. Slower cooling causes larger grains. Gabbro, with the largest grains, cooled very slowly in larger magma chambers. Micrograbbo, with intermediate grain size, cooled in dyke and sill intrusions. The combined vent material of Arthur’s Seat, as mapped, gives an irregular vent of 750-1000 metres across.

Photograph by Alan C who gratiously has bestowed the rights to the Volcano café. Pipe brecciated St Austell granite

The picture of pipe brecciated St Austell granite illustrates the general appearance of vent agglomerate; however, the detail is different since a true vent agglomerate has fragments with a much larger range in both size and composition.

The opening picture shows the main vents of the Lion’s Head (left) and Lion’s Haunch (right) in the background, with Salisbury Crags in front; these are the quarried remains of a post volcanic episode Teschenite: an olivine analcime microgabbro – analcime is a hydrous sodic zeolite mineral comparable to feldspathoids; zeolite minerals are aluminosilicate, and are usually associated with empty bubbles (vesicles) in amygdaloidal basalt flows (amygdaloidal means that the basalt contains holes or bubbles), which are later filled with minerals deposits). Teschenite has a lowish olivine content of 5-15%. It is common in Scotland, and in this case it formed when a sill intruded into sub-volcanic sediments of Lower Carboniferous age.

Salisbury Crags are part of a site dedicated to James Hutton, who has been called the ‘Father of Geology’. It was here that Hutton part formulated his theory of Uniformitarianism, that confounded the Neptunism movement that insisted the Earth dated from the biblical Great Flood, by siting the presence of a rock of obvious molten origin being intruded into sediments/volcanic rock, the sediments being just visible below the sill.

Away from the volcano, mapping and borehole evidence shows that there are up to 250 metres thickness of tuffs and lavas adjacent to the vent and in the Midlothian borehole. Some 10 km to the south east, approximately 70 m of volcanic material was found at the horizon of the Arthurs Seat volcanics.

Castle Rock is the erosional core of a relatively small parasitic volcano off Arthur’s Seat, composed of microgabbro. It is approximately 150 metres in diameter. The vent again cuts through shallow water marine sediments of Lower Carboniferous (Dinantian) age. These sediments comprise predominantly sandstones and minor shale horizons; but it should be noted that in some texts the sediments erroneously are noted as limestones, a confusion arising from the rocks of this age being assigned to the Carboniferous Limestone division.

Picture from showing Castle Rock and vent.

Image of how Edinburgh would have looked like during the “interesting times”.

More recently, during the last Ice Age, ice sheet movement has produced a classic example of a ‘crag-and-tail’ with the Castle Rock – the crag – protecting the Carboniferous sediments of the Royal Mile – the tail – from ice erosion, indicating that the mass of ice came from the west. More recently, the ice-deepened gouge channel on the north side (Princes Street gardens) has been utilised by the railway as an ideal route through the city! It is kind of appropriate – trains in the UK have the reputation of ‘running’ at a glacial speed.

Image from Google Earth

So what happened? For this, we need to go back to the landscape of 350 million years ago. This part of Scotland had a warm, wet climate (half of which hasn’t changed). It was located a little south of the equator. There were mountains to the north, and to the south was sea (England was submerged and even wetter than Scotland). Rivers brought sediment from the mountains and deposited them on the coastal plains. The coast moved back and forth as sea levels changed. This created layers of different sediments. Sometimes there were swamps with dense vegetation, sometimes there was only river sand. The petrified sand was later used for the buildings of Edinburgh, while the swamps became Scotland’s coal fields. And at times the sea rose so much that all of lowland Scotland was under water, and a layer of limestone formed.

There had been another ocean here before, the Iapetus ocean which closed and went out of business about 400 million years ago. That closure had brought Scotland and England together, in a pre-historic Act of Union, and had pushed up the mountains north of Edinburgh. But the ocean that was now to the south was a different one; it separated the newly merged post-Iapetus land (Scandinavia, England (Avalonia) and North America) from Gondwana. This was the Rheic Ocean, and it too was on its last legs. About 320 million years ago the Rheic Ocean went extinct and Pangea was born. England is a graveyard of oceans, with Scotland playing -not entirely successfully- the innocent onlooker.

The Iapetus and Rheic oceans, 440 million years ago. Note that England and Scotland were oceans apart at that time.

There was 70 million years between the closing of the two oceans. That is quite a lot of time. The creation of Edinburgh took place in this period of time between the two oceans. The closing of the Iapetus ocean involved an subduction zone to the northwest, and subduction causes volcanoes – often explosive ones. So it was here. South of Edinburgh are the Pentland hills, running from Biggar (a nice little market town with a small museum that is well worth a visit) towards the northeast, to Edinburgh. These hills started out as Iapetus ocean floor, covered with kilometers of sediment and pushed up in the continental collision. Now volcanoes erupted on top of this: they added kilometer-thick lava and ash layers, ranging from basaltic to rhyolitic.

As the Rheic ocean began to close, England found itself in an area of subsidence. Much of England went under water. The Pentland hills were now on the shores of an ocean they had nothing to do with. The closest analogy I can think of is Cape Town which claims to have two oceans, one on either side. Cape Point, at the tip of the peninsula that also contains the Cape of Good Hope, can be an amazing place. If you like plants, you could spend a week here and see a different erica every hour. Most of the visitors ignore them and go straight to the vertiginous look-out point. Out at sea, sometimes you can clearly see the difference between the two currents coming from the two oceans. And sometimes you can’t: the currents don’t always meet at the same place. Do be aware of the tourists, your wallet, the incessant wind, and the baboons. (The latter are the most sexist animals I know, attacking women tourists (and children) but leaving the men alone. Made me think of some humans.) Edinburgh was like this, apart from the pesky detail of 70 million years between the two oceans. The climate was hot, far hotter than Cape Town – some of the limestone deposit in England indicate mean annual temperatures over 30 C. Think Persian Gulf.


The closure of the Rheic ocean caused a new phase of volcanic activity. This was different from before, and it was not directly subduction driven. Perhaps a graben tried to form. It has also been suggested that it was triggered by the subduction of the old spreading center of the Rheic ocean, with its residual heat. Small centers of volcanic activity developed where basalt came up, forming relatively small, short-lived volcanoes. These form a line across the midland valley of Scotland, from the coast near Edinburgh running in the direction of Stirling. The eruptions happened in a shallow sea and they build up small islands. Where lava met sea water, explosions could happen, but otherwise the activity was effusive. The volcanoes themselves have long since eroded away. Only the central plugs have survived: Arthur’s seat, Castle rock and Stirling castle are examples; East Lothian (east of Edinburgh) has more examples. The area around Arthur’s Seat shows evidence for 13 different lava flows, which is not a huge number seeing it came from three separate vents. Of course, other flows may have eroded away.

An area further west, around Glasgow, experienced volcanic activity at about the same time. This was larger in size, and it led to the formation of the Clyde Plateau lava extending northeast from Glasgow towards Stirling. (This poor town had to defend itself against volcanics encroaching from two sides – luckily it is a well-defended citadel.) Originally the Clyde Plateau may have covered 3000 km2. The Renfrewshire Hills are a remnant of this: they form a large lava plateau, probably fed from fissure eruptions, with numerous dikes well below the surface. From Dumbarton onward the flows become vent-driven: Dumbarton rock belongs to this sequence. The hill of Meikle Bin is perhaps the most impressive of these vents, and it may have been part of a caldera. There are other volcanic fields further west but these are younger. If you are in the mood to visit Glasgow ( a badly underrated city): the famous Necropolis (with 50,000 inhabitants, all deceased) is build on a small hill next to the cathedral: it formed from an intrusion in this younger Permian volcanics. Rumour has it that a new Batman film is being filmed on the Necropolis.

As this brief phase of volcanic activity waned around Edinburgh, the magma became too sluggish to reach the surface. Instead it spread out in large underground sills, and over time slowly solidified. The cooling allowed grains to grow, and the end result was that layers of dolerite formed. When you walk on the old streets of Edinburgh (a much recommended activity, trying to select your favourite pub – best done by trial and error) (although I could not find any errors), the stones under your feet come from this dolerite, quarried in various places around the city. Arthur’s seat is dated to 342 million years ago whilst the dolerite is 325 million years old.

And now the Rheic ocean finally closed. This seems to have been a relatively relaxed affair, which did not form high mountains. But the land was pushed up and Scotland became dry, now safely embedded in the heart of Pangea. The extinct volcanoes quietly waited for the arrival of the Scots, and the building of Edinburgh.

Walking around in Edinburgh is a rewarding geological and volcanological activity. It is a beautiful city, and a lively one. It is also small enough that everything is within walking distance. All around you are the memories of its volcanic past, fed by interactions with all three surrounding continents. This land has held its volcanic (red-haired) head high for the past 300 million years. The Scots picked a good place to live.

ALAN C & Albert

More on Scotland

The stones of Calanais
Sahara, Scotland

And finally, can you identify the mystery stone?

Image from from Mystery stone…

138 thoughts on “The Edinburgh volcano

  1. Thank you Albert! For a post on my old home town; I grew up in Edinburgh – it was through wandering round Arthur’s Seat, and all the other less famous lumps of old volcanic/intrusive rock round the city (Corstorphine Hill, Calton Hill, the Braid Hills, etc) that aroused my interest in geology, and especially volcanoes. One minor query, though; surely Hutton’s Uniformitarianisam was in opposition to Catastrophism–‘ the Neptunists, who asserted that crystalline volcanic rocks were actually laid down as sediments, came later.

    As for the mystery rock; that bloody great white crystal looks like leucite to me, and one place famous for leucite phenocrysts is Vesuvius, so that’s where I’ll place my bet. Probably wildly wrong, but still….

    • Looks like a leucite to me too, reminds me of a fist sized one a friend of mine found at Mt Ste. Hilaire, another very interesting volcanic neck.

    • This post is based on one written quite a few years ago for VC, which I expanded. I did not check this particular point! To a Dutch person, catastrophism and neptunism is pretty much the same thing..

  2. Great and interesting article! My bet is like the others: the crystal is leucite.

  3. I don’t know the rock, but the article and the rock question being fond memories of the wonderful Creetown Gem Rock Museum near Newton Stewart, in Dumfries & Galloway.

    Should any of you venture in that direction, I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the museum. It has an active workshop, plenty of samples and lots to buy. I can’t praise the staff and the enthusiasm enough behind this ‘gem’ of a place. Do go if you can. It’s not a large place but well worth support and patronage.

  4. Wrong crystallographic group for quartz, unless it stole some other crystal’s shape (either by gradually displacing it, or by filling the hole left by its dissolution).

    And in the main article, “sited” should probably be “cited”.

  5. Wonderful, Albert! Your writing always makes me feel “there” and “when” and lets me see it change. Best!motsfo

  6. The image of the crystal can be found at wikimedia (

    It is an Analcime from the Haramosh Muntains in Pakistan.

  7. Large earthquake in Turkey. There was one there this morning which caused casualties. There has now been a larger event in the last hour. The shock this morning was a foreshock.

  8. And only for the second time since 2011 there are two yellow bars right next to each other on the Grímsvötn earthquake counter graph.

  9. And amidst all the excitement of Edinburgh, I missed the star in Reykjanes

  10. Great read, Albert – thanks! I live on the top of Corstorphine Hill and have a very close-up view of the (snowy this week) Pentlands from my desk at work, and drive past Arthur’s Seat several times a week. Very interesting to learn more about them.

  11. The past week there has been a series of quakes around Lo’ihi.

  12. I know this is an off-topic, but we have a big grey swan type of event unfolding in front of our eyes, where science can also be discussed. And that is the covid19 pandemic.

    (For definition of what is a grey swan event, please read the end of my comment)

    Initially a severe outbreak in China, was just a concern in the back of our minds. It has now turned a more serious concern, verging on becoming the next severe pandemic, not as bad like 1918, but considerably worse than anything since then.

    With a mortality rate, still unclear, but estimated to be around 2%, and highly contagious, this has the potential to kill a significant number of millions, if it spreads widely and without control. Hopefully not. But it is seemingly out of control in countries like Italy, South Korea and Iran. More concerning that its mortality rate is the fact that 20% of the infected tend to require hospitalization and develop severe symptoms, and the mortality rate is very high in those above age of 60.

    Going further off-topic, I just ordered my face masks yesterday. I approached my parents thinking that they would told me “you are being paranoid” only to find that they already ordered face masks too.

    Feeling the pressure of natural selection and natural elements on the species….

    Pandemics have happened widely in recent centuries. We tend to forget that.
    They can cause more problems and deaths than VEI7 eruptions, and are more frequent.
    And sometimes both happen at same time. In 536, an unconfirmed severe VEI7 eruption caused the largest volcanic winter in 2000 years. A wave of black plague followed and killed a significant fraction of mankind (up to about half of the Europeans). It is known as Justinian Plague.

    Covid19 is 2020´s grey swan. Not a black swan (a black swan is a totally unpredictable event, for instance Betelgeuse going supernova and blasting us unexpectedly with a wave of radiation). A grey swan is an event also unlikely to happen, but still relatively possible and not completely unexpected.

    A grey swan event can lead to a black swan event, because some consequence of the current event are potentially unpredictable (such as causing a total meltdown of the world economy or resulting in a revolution)

    You dont believe on this? Well, 1784. The year after Laki caused a volcanic winter in Europe, famine and thousand of deaths in UK and France. The events of France developed into the French Revolution and from there into the Napoleonic wars. Who would predict it?

    • Both black-death plagues (540 and 1347 AD) came after large volcanic eruptions. So we should be ok for now.. But yes, this is developing into a significant outbreak. It could still be contained but it may not. It depends on how far it has spread. Of course we have always had strange diseases. Reading old documents from the middle ages, some of the epidemics had symptoms that do not sound like any disease known today. And the worst diseases were probably in the Americas after their ‘discovery’ when 90% of the population may have died. This, in comparison, will be a minor thing.

    • In the UK the papers are reporting that the “realistic worst case scenario” that they’re planning for, is 50% of the population to catch it, with deaths between 250k and 300k.

      A grim thought.

      From what they’re saying 80% of cases are mild, 15% serious and 5% critical, with approx 2% fatality rate. But that’s in a relatively advanced nation like China.

      If it gets into Africa, or the Syrian refugee camps, that 20% is going to hit very hard.

      As to face masks, just how effective are they? And how affordable? Given that you need to use two per day.

      I’m due to go on trip to Prague in few weeks. I’m already wondering whether it might best to forget the idea.

      • If you haven’t booked yet, the travel insurance may make the decision for you. If this spreads, they will soon stop providing cover related to the virus. Some people here are canceling travel plans because of the risk of not being able to get back into the country. We were hit by eyjafjallajokull when some of our staff became stuck overseas.

    • There is little doubt in my mind that this virus is uncontrolled. If death rates are circa 1% and it doesn’t mutate, this means circa 80M people are likely to die prematurely. Probably more in developed world and fewer in the (younger population) of the developing world. Likely people to die are those who are old with lung conditions (eg me). At best a few days gasping for breath and wondering if my time is up. That’s just how it goes in nature I’m afraid. Just a small warning that the 1918 epidemic mutated and the second wave was fatal to those who recovered from the first wave, so the jury will be out for probably 18+months. The only saving grace is that its a DNA virus which is very slow to mutate, unlike the RNA viruses.
      Happy days.

        • You are right. I looked that up the other day and the only google ref I could find (with difficulty) said they were dna. Today the same search pulls in hundreds of hits. In that case we are in big big trouble.

          • Coronavirus has a very low mutation rate for an RNA virus. (1 mutation per 10^6BP per replication) similar to small DNA viruses. Its replication enzymes checks for errors much like our own. Mutation rate is 1000 times lower than small RNA viruses.

      • My go-to source of info is

        We know there are lies, damned lies and statistics and how you interpret the numbers is all important. The current death rate (CFR) is possibly 2% but (and it’s a big but) there are many more cases still in progress with an estimated 20% being severe or critical. CFR only properly works as a measure when the dust has settled on the outbreak and the total known cases can be split into ‘recovered’ or ‘died’ categories.

        The site gives a more pragmatic view of the numbers (which must not be considered entirely accurate anyway). For all CLOSED cases i.e. where the patient either fully recovered or they died, there is an 8% mortality rate.

        However, it is entirely possible that:
        1. The rate is much lower as, within China and now probably Iran and elsewhere, many with only short-lived, minor symptoms would have not reported themselves and may therefore be uncounted by the authorities.
        2. The rate is higher, as there is a level of disinformation, obfuscation and slopey-shoulderism in officials to be taken into account.

        Interestingly, one expert says that these two factors may actually cancel each other out and the figures could therefore be accurate for all the wrong reasons.

        Anyway, caution is the better part of valour, so I shall courageously wash my hands at every available moment from now til Kingdom come.

        PS This wasn’t quite the first post I was considering, having lurked unregistered here for some time, but I think worth sharing in the spirit of scientific enlightenment. We wait and see how this all plays out…

        This comment was held back for approval, as normally happens to first comments. Welcome! – admin

        • Followed that site already sometime. Interestingly the % of deaths is decreasing. It started with a staggering 21% but now it is down to 8%. This could be a very good sign of improved measures at the hospitals or, indeed, counting just in the less severe cases.
          On the other hand, all medical supplies and a lot of support have been send to China for the time being. Over 3000 medics have gotten ill in China, and they seem to control it thus far, managing the situation for the moment..
          Now a critical view, at some point people in China have to get food, to work etc.. if the disease is not controlled fully, there will be a second wave which might be more severe (call this in volcano terms, clearing the throat). Once supplies are needed in the rest of the world due to advancing virus, there will be a shortage and this will be the real threat, not sufficient supply of a lot of things (medical etc..) and we will face a rapid dissimination of the virus. Of course, we all hope for the best but listening carefull to various channels, we need to be prepared for a long term presence of this virus..

          • Already the number of counted cases in multiple countries including the United States and China are constrained by the number of available test kits.

      • What’s the best thing you can do to deal with this virus? Simple. Make sure you have a month’s worth of non-perishable food on hand BEFORE it hits the area where you live. That way you don’t have to go out when you don’t have to, both avoiding contact with other people thereby reducing your transmission risk and also avoiding punch-ups and food riots.

        Think I’m joking or exaggerating? There was a punch-up in an Italian shop over food yesterday. The weekend before last there was an armed robbery in Hong Kong the target of the robbers was 600 ROLLS OF TOILET TISSUE.

        Prepare sufficiently before the virus gets to your area and you will likely be a lot better off when it does get there. Bear in mind it is also almost certainly when it gets to your area, not if.

        • I think 2020 will be a year of panic, with a few million people dying from covid19, social disruption, huge economic impact, but as with all pandemics, life for the human civilization continues afterwards. Then, the disease becomes endemic just like flu, only recurring in pandemic waves every few decades.

          We will have to learn to accept and adapt to this virus.

          Stockpiling is one thing, but long-term, we all need good and robust immune systems – we cannot hide forever – and we need to find sanity in the craze of the global modern society panicking. But I understand, fear is a natural response and we are still animals.

          • If about one third of the global population were to come down with COVID-19 every year; and the mortality rate remained around the current 3.4%; then roughly 2.5 billion people per year would get sick and about 86.5 million per year would die. That would tip the global death rate a little higher than the birth rate, resulting in net zero global population growth.

            Not a bad thing in my humble opinion. It could give the world a chance to get population, consumption, waste, pollution, species extinction and climate change under control; avoiding the need for a nuclear war to get back to a sustainable population.

  13. I live where ground zero for COVID-19 is here in CA. Had a big post written but browser shut down on me. Will update tomorrow. Exhausted and off to bed. I live in Vallejo and travel the length of Solano County to attend school in Sacramento for perspective.

    • 4 .medical students from 3 campuses within my comm college district have had direct exposure to COVID-19 through working clinicals and are under self-quarantine for 14 days. Recent research is suggesting that the quarantine period should be double that. Los Rios (the school district is attempting to calm fears and say “we’re cleaning extra well” but colleges are cesspools anyways. The first known and confirmed community transmission is currently hospitalized at UC Davis Med Center in Sacramento not 5 miles from campus. Whats’a most concerning is that said patient went to the hospital 3 days before admission and intubation with symptoms and the CDC denied a COVID-19 test. When. She went back in bad shape, she was tested was deemed positive. She had been out and about for as many as 10 days while possibly contagious. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned.

      I had an ill professor for two days this week and while my allergies have been horrific, it now feels like I may have picked up what she has. Right now just super duper fingers crossed I haven’t acquired this ick. The whole situation sucks. Gov. Newsome has stated 8400 people being “monitored” at this time.

      I can take any updates to the cafe.

      • This is the time of the year when many viruses go round, so you probably have something entirely different such as a common cold! The biggest unknown is how many people have it without noticing anything beyond a cold. That could be quite a large number. On the positive side, the published rates of 20% hospitalized etc are only for the cases bad enough to be noticed. If 90% of cases are very mild, those numbers are overstated by a factor of 10. Anyway, you’re young. It is bad mainly for older people. I am more worried about your professors.

      • I think people have gone from being overly complacent about the Coronovirus two or three weeks ago, to over reacting.

        We need to remember where the line is between planning for the worst, which is a good idea in an uncertain situation, and assuming the worst, before it’s happened, when the likely outcome is still most probably going to be a best or medium case scenario.

        Let’s recognize that the health experts in charge are experienced professionals, with a solid record of managing public health emergencies successfully.

        Running around like headless chickens screaming about the end of the world isn’t going to do any good, and is likely to do harm.

        As an analogy, when Volcano aficionados like Albert or Carl come on this blog and say that if Volcano X erupts it’ll be bad, and less bad if those in the effected area listen to to the best available scientific advice, but not a black swan event set to destroy the civilisation, I tend to believe them. When public health experts say the same sort of things about diseases, I tend to believe them too.

        • Agreed. Too many people are freaking out. I’m not, just trying to stay current with the facts because I’m pretty much at the epicenter of where the came to roost in the US. The prof who is sick has been emailing me for requested assistance with a class and said she’s been to the doc and, in her case, it’s not COVID-19. So we are both happy about that. Just hoping the school district doesn’t shut down as this is my next to last semester and after May I have only one more class in the fall. No more reports of infection at school, but the person who has died as a result of the virus in Washington state is sad. I’ll update more if anything interesting occurs.

          • I agree. Whilst the pandemic is bad, and especially for older people (the death percentage increases from 0.4% amidst adults to 3% for those over 60, and then 20% for those over 80), what is even worst is the possible out of control reaction from societies, which can certainly destroy a lot (the economy, for instance, and more)

            I am more concerned about the people´s fear rather than the virus itself.
            Fear is not a good thing. It shouldnt be allowed to proliferate like wild fire.

            And yes, the virus is also a problem, mainly by putting excessive pressure on the health systems.

          • I would love to hear what are the percentage of hospitalizations or severe cases, as per demographics/age groups. I cant find that data.

            Fatality rates are highly skewed towards old age (WHO data).
            0.2% until age 40
            0.4% until age 50
            3.6% between age 60-70
            15-20% above age 80

            0.1% in children under two (accordingly to a study)

            And I would guess-estimate (based in an average 20% hospitalization rate):
            1% for adults until age 40
            2% until age 50
            15-20% between age 60-70
            80-100% above age 80
            (these are my estimates, not real data)

        • You have a 1 in 5 chance of getting pneumonia that requires hospitalisation and a 1 in 20 chance of needing intensive care. In my country (Australia) we have 1 hospital bed per 200 population and 1 ICU bed per 13000 population.
          So there is a 100% probability of the medical system being overwhelmed unless stringent quarantine is enforced until a vaccine becomes widely available.
          4-5% of patients will die without treatment.
          We are looking potentially at a 18month shutdown of the world to try and limit casualties to the hundreds of thousands (a similar toll to seasonal flu) or if we don’t contain it potentially end up with 100 million+ deaths.

          This thing has the potential to be 1000 times more deadly than the Boxing Day tsunami.

          On the positive we do have a bunch of promising antiviral agents that may be able to reduce the severity of disease and thus death. But generally they need to be administered early in infection to have the most effect.

          This is on the same threat level as the 1918 pandemic although fortunately it mostly seems to target to old and unhealthy.

          It’s not going to end civilisation but it will profoundly impact our lives and result in the death of friends and loved ones if it reaches its potential.

          • Don’t panic. China has shown it is possible to keep it under control. The spread is actually not as fast as might be expected. That suggests it is not as infectious overall. I also have the impression that the numbers are excluding a group who has caught it without being notably ill. The rate of patients who need hospitalizing is in that case overestimated. However, in close quarters it does spread and it is dangerous especially to older people. So yes, we need to take it seriously, but no, no reason to predict armageddon.

      • Your immune system benefits from sleep in the early phase of infection. Zinc is also critical to your immune system and has been proven to be effective in reducing disease in respiratory RNA viruses and in coronavirus in In Vitro experiments. Finally Vitamin D deficiency is Important to ARDS which is what kills your with this infection. Its not the virus that kills you but the inflammatory immune response, that Vitamin D helps mitigate.

        • Vitamin D? If the most important source is sunlight, then Albert and I are both doomed…we live in Manchester

        • Ref the zinc. From what I understand it interferes with the encapsulation process in the Rhinovirus reproduction cycle. Does Coronavirus use the same process to make new virons?

          (The idea behind zinc is to slow the infection so that your immune system can over power the virus)

  14. As I said before, we will all get it probably within the year. I note the uk has raised the number likely to get it from 20% to 30% to 50% and now 70% and I predict soon it will be 95%.

    • If we get a worldwide pandemi, and a big volcanic eruption… We are in for a ride in the year to Come…….

          • I mean to say, its sick to hope for disasters, as they cause death and suffering. Its not sick to appreciate the beauty of volcanic eruptions. But big eruptions cause bad consequences, so we shouldnt hope for them.

          • You have misjudged me, I am a mentally ill person with extremely violent and sadistic desires. I may say sound sane when talking about some of passions but if you were to get to know me you would realize. I am a borderline sociopath with other issues.
            I don’t care for any adults I don’t know. The men and women of the developed world. They would do nothing for starving children in Yemen but still have the audacity to make non issues in their countries or just do completely nothing.
            I want everyone on this world to die including me and all of you. Nothing personal you guys. It is just that humanity needs end. Maybe if God exists he can give people either heaven or hell.
            I don’t know if makes it better morally but I would still enjoy the disaster even if i was suffering with everyone else

    • As albert mentioned and has been reported, it looks as if very many cases have not been reported and the symptoms are mild or unnoticed. That is the scenario I am working on, a few percent quite sick and circa 1% mortality of which some/significant of those have a predisposition making them quite vulnerable.

  15. The thing gets ugly … It has already dispersed alarmingly: In mainland China there are 79,828 infections; in South Korea there are 3,736; in Japan there are 957; in Italy there are 1694; in Iran there are 978 declared but many more are supposed; in Singapore there are 106; in Hong Kong there are 100; and in the USA there are 73 cases, and there are already many deaths where there were only contagions … The numbers are concentrated in China, and that is good because their contagion numbers are decreasing, hopefully the same happens in the rest of the world …

    • Hong Kong’s numbers are actually quite impressive. They have managed to suppress the epidemic before it really got started. It can be done.

      • It can be done but you need universal healthcare, functioning public health and believe in science. This does not bode well for USA epidemics.

        • The US definitely has problems. The distrust of science in some areas is problematic and has directly caused the resurgence of measles. But it also has strengths. The health care is second to none. Too many have no regular access to it but in disasters it is available to all. Universal health care is not a cure for all ills, as the UK can show you. But some commercial companies act as predators on the health care in the US and the system would in my opinion function a lot better without them. I won’t get into any internal US discussion on how to run their country. In the end, it is about what people are willing to pay for and whether they are willing to let some sharks eat up some of that money.

          • I think this event will be studied for decades after for exactly that comparison. It should be interesting to read comparison of China vs Korea (authoritarian vs. open) or Korea vs US (free testing everywhere vs. superexpensive not available).

          • You probably want to add Iran (complete denial) and Italy (late detection) to the list. But at the moment it does not feel like it will be a major epidemic. Where containment has been tried, it seems to work. Tougher tests of health care systems will come. This may not be the one.

    • And if you look at the daily “new case” data, it indicates that the rates there are following a logistic function of some sort and settling down. However draconian their methods may or may not be, it is working quite well. The presence of a sigmoid shape to their data lends high credibility to it not just being some ploy to make them look good.

      • If virus has maximum incubation of 28 days and people are kept from mingling and moving around too much then after 28 days then the trend should be downward.China locked down late January and a month later the case load seems to have dropped, plus the spraying of surfaces. With the cruise ship fiasco this virus seems to have perhaps a major surface spread component, so indoor areas out of the sun and inhabited by a lot of people. Maybe in countries and cities where people live in suburban situations with space between houses spread would be slower? This thing must be contained as if aĺowed to spread to fast it quickly overwhelms health systems, I hope the concept of containment is kept going.

        • Its good we are getting more information as the initial ones on infectivity and mortality seem to be a bit askew.

        • Yes, but cruise ships seem to be particularly prone to epidemics. Must be something to do with so many people living on top of one another

        • Its Laki 2.0 brewing 😂
          With 30 km3 in 8 months this time
          Just kidding the next eruption maybe a weak VEI 4 ( 300 million cubic meters )

          But there acually is 800 km3 of molten basalt magma Inside Grimsvötn

      • The upper magma chamber in Grimsvötn is very shallow too just 2 km under the lake floor
        Grimsvötn contains Icelands most powerful geothermal areras

    • What a lovely view that would be to have from your lounge window if it didn’t have other ramifications.

  16. Coronovirus is souch a false alarm! total hysteria over a almost harmless virus…
    Corona – virus is not a mass exterminator.

    If you gets Corona – virus the chance of death is extremely small.
    Im not afraid at all.. the scandinavian politicans are going panic … over something thats not dangerous.
    I dont want more hysteria over an almost harlmess virus.

    Many doctors are laughning over this hysteria and fear

    • Media officals and politicans today are on the same mental level as a Diplodocus or Supersaurus
      At least when it comes to new viruses and how to react to them…

      • Oohhhh Brachiosaurus was more intelligent than most humans is today : )

        • There is nothing wrong with a little excess prep, just because it is not super deadly now doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future like a well known pandemic. We don’t need fearmongering but we don’t need to underestimate this virus. it is already far more dangerous and deadlier then SARS and MERS.

          • Actually 1% is pretty high, and for older people the rate is much higher than this. Transmission seems slow enough that containment is working but this disease needs to be taken seriously. No reason to panic, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

          • Trying to find out a fatality rate for influenza is not easy. Many people who have don’t report it. But it seems around 0.1%. The Spanish flu in 1918 was worse but the rate does not seem to have been much over 1%. Life expectancy was less, so fewer old people were around. Influenza, like corona, is much worse for older people. Therefore the numbers may not be comparable. In danger rate, corona is considerably worse than influenza. So yes, do take it seriously.

          • Today the WHO have revised the death rate worldwide for covid-19 to 3.4%. My age group is running about 3 times the average. It is definitely something to be concerned about especially as I’m expecting to be having surgery in a couple of month’s time.

          • Keep in mind that Influenza is not Influenza. There are lots of subtypes and variants circulating. Some variants are more contagious but less aggressive than others, while other variants are less contagious but more aggressive. Once in a while a mutation or exchange of genetic material occurs producing a new variant which is both: contagious and aggressive. Therefore the fatality rate of the influenza viruses vary between 0.01% and 3-5%.

            The coronavirus is thought to be something in between. Realistic fatality rate appears to be around 1-2%. It is interesting to note that small children can carry the virus but are not affected by the disease.

            I think it is a good idea to try to contain it, but it is difficult.

          • Supersaurus had a much higher intelligence than the
            Swedish politican officals.. that now death panic over Corona.
            Some of our polticans wants to close the borders beacuse of this virus.

            Next time I will vote on the Jurassic Sauropods
            This corona fear is hysteria: this is not the spanish killer

    • The very frustrating thing is that the way this is being reported, ie focusing on mortality rates lead to a huge overestimate of risk. The appropriate statistic to consider is excess mortality.

      • Good luck with that, its probably the most important thing we need to do when reporting risk and deathrates but NOBODY wants to use it despite a very good measure (see microlife) being available. That’s mostly because researchers wanting funding need to dex it up to get grants, journalists need to sex it up to get ‘good’ copy, and pressure groups need to sex it up to get fuinding and NOBODY wants to use a rational risk measure because it puts things into perspective far too much.

    • If you are a child perhaps. For the elderly population it is actually a relative dangerous bug.

      You are also severely underestimating the other effects of the Virus. Like the impact on the healthcare system and the economy. It doesn’t have to be lethal to wreak havoc.

      Also good luck saying that to the grieving families.

  17. Apparently the coronavirus has already been circulating in Spain since at least late January (as a man that died of Pneumonia in 13th Feb was confirmed in autopsied study to have coronavirus).

    A previous study on the genetics of covid19 has shown that the virus has been circulating in Italy since mid January.

    Its my guess that the virus has been also circulating in Germany, France and UK since January. The UK will begin random tests to study this concern.


    On statistics. The Japanese cruise story is a good one.
    About 20% were infected, But lets assume 30%, as the test seems to give false negatives quite often.
    From those, 1% died and 6% went to ICU care. This is a best case scenario, as treatment was prompt, quarantine was enforced and the health system in Japan is top quality.

    In real life, mortality rate might be higher. In China it shows as 3.7%, but many cases have not been closed yet, so those patients might still die. In practice, mortality rate is likely to be anywhere between 1% and 6%. Any mutant strains would change this figures significantly. Nobody wishes that!


    As I am 38, I am not particularly at risk for this virus, but nonetheless I am taking precautions. I started taking vitamin D and zinc, and I keep my daily morning orange juice (vitamin C). I try to keep low stress, daily jogging and plenty of sleep and healthy eating. Washing hands frequently and avoid physical contact with strangers, I did stockpiled some food and ordered some face masks, just in case things go out of control.

    • The Coronavirus is endemic to human populations. (It’s already everywhere.) The spur with Wuhan is that a strain there developed a more virulent capacity. My guess is that different virus populations have or are developing a similar virulence based on their own mutation rates causing similar changes that make them more difficult to deal with. (Pure supposition on my part)

      The strange result, is that laboratories worldwide are now desperately trying to cure what is in essence… “the common cold”.

      (Coronavirus, along with Rhinovirus, are the principal causes of it)

      • It is supposition. This is a novel virus, probably from bats and possibly via the infectious disease lab in Wuhan (yes, China’s only P4 facility is in Wuhan). There are published papers from that lab describing a bat strain of coronavirus that, like SARS, can infect via human ACE2 receptors. The bats in question are found in Yunnan province.

        Paper in Nature here:

        • Appreciate the link.

          BTW, that lab is less than 1000 feet from the wet market.

          Strangely coincidental, shortly after this thing started, China announced a crack-down on lab security and biosample safeguarding.

          I can’t remember the link, but it also came to light that some workers there were selling lab animals to vendors after the experiments using them were completed. Think about that…. cheap mice for the snake vendor. Though frightening on it’s own accord, this is a much more plausible scenario than other theories.

  18. I modeled the evolution of this pandemic, to see what happens next, and this is the interesting bit. In about 10 days from now (around 10-15 March) we should see the number of detected cases surpassing 200 and deaths above 7, in the following countries: Japan, Germany, France, Spain, and some states in the US. Which means, these countries are likely to see the first quarantine situations like Italy and South Korea by then.

    In reality, the number of cases is much higher than reported, due to lack of testing in many asymptomatic patients. In the Japanese cruise, 50% tested positive but only had mild or no symptoms. But 1% died, in what was a good case scenario of rapid response.

    We should see the pandemic hitting its peak sometime in May and June, but probably earlier than that, by April, in Italy and South Korea. Which means that until then, most of us will probably catch the covid19 infection. About 0.1-0.5% of the population could die, over the following months, from this pandemic, but many will have no or just mild symptoms. Troubles are the following: social panic, the hassle of quarantines, severe economic disruption and transport disruption, shortage of some goods (like IT), increased difficulties in some countries already facing challenges like the Middle East.

    All of the above is based in several assumptions and estimates, so please do not take my numbers and predictions very seriously. Use them with a grain of salt.

    I also confronted during recent days with my reactions of, at times denial, and at other times, panic. Quite universal reactions when faced with difficult situations.

    • It is moving far faster than you modeled (more transmissible) but possibly less virulent (able to kill).

      At time of this post: 4 Mar 2020

      Japan: 304 cases 6 deaths confirmed
      Germany: 244 cases no deaths
      France: 212 cases 4 deaths
      USA: 128 cases 9 deaths, probably under-reported due to issues with test kit availability
      Spain: 193 cases 1 death

      The economic costs and potential to overwhelm hospital systems seem to me the biggest risk.

      • There seems little doubt that over reaction and resultant economic damage will far outweigh any reduction in mortality rates due directly from the virus. If we start seeing significant bankruptcy of businesses and resultant significant job losses then other causes of death are likely to rise. Suicides and things related to family breakdown etc. Its serious but not particularly so.

  19. Since the Edinburgh volcano hasn’t done much for a very long time, I guess people want to talk viruses.

    This guy (a financial analyst with a biology PhD) is quite good on the topic

      • Maybe Popocatepetl? It has been very active this year. And it is a very tall volcano.

        • It even has a very long “sciency” “scary” sounding name for those who don’t know about it.

      • Rising sea level / wandering north pole?

        For both are no vaccines available – pandemic volcanic eruptions are the symptoms – incubation time unknown

          • Magnetic pole is not the same as the usual north pole, so I had not understood the remark correctly. The actual axis of the earth’s magnetic field has not changed. the movement of the magnetic north pole is a small scaled disturbance: the field has two stronger areas, one below Canada and one below Russia, and the relative strengths of these varies. The earth magnetic field is too weak to cause or influence volcanics, by the way. the only time it plays a role is when lava solidifies.

          • Yes, I’d wish the magnetic north pole had been moving as actively as now a few centuries ago. It would make paleomagnetic dating of recent lava flows much more easier.

          • So the actual directions of the newest “frozen” ferromagnetic minerals point to your two points in Canada and Russia, not to the magnetic north pole? Didn’t know that…fascinating!

            Past field reversals can be and have been recorded in the “frozen” ferromagnetic (or, more accurately, ferrimagnetic) minerals of consolidated sedimentary deposits or cooled volcanic flows on land.


          • Not quite. They point to the average between them and as one is strengthening that average is tipping towards Siberia. But that has happened before. The strengths of both vary with time. The two areas are of course based very far below the crust.

          • Dear Albert, I still don’t understand your point that only the magnetic pole(s) are moving and not the magnetic field of our earth.

            If your suggestion would be true, why are there so many, even extraordinary, changes in the WMM?

            “The World Magnetic Model (WMM) is a large spatial-scale representation of the Earth’s magnetic field.

            Updated model coefficients are released at 5-year intervals, with WMM2015 (released Dec 15, 2014) supposed to last until December 31, 2019. However, due to extraordinarily large and erratic movements of the north magnetic pole, an out-of-cycle update (WMM2015v2) was released in February 2019 (delayed by a few weeks due to the U.S. federal government shutdown) to accurately model the magnetic field above 55° north latitude until the end of 2019…”


          • This is complex. A simple magnetic field from a bar magnet is a dipole (two poles). In this case there isn’t a bar but there are electric currents in the outer molten core which together also produce a (dynamo) dipole field. But there isn’t just one current loop. There are many convection cells in the core, each of which acts like a dynamo. Averaged together they look like a dipole, but because they don’t match up perfectly you also get a quadrupole component to the field. The quadrupole field falls off faster with distance. The closer to the core, the more the field looks like a quadrupole, the further away the more it looks like a dipole. Only the quadrupole component is changing at the moment. The dipole field remains fixed. Go out into space, and you will see a stable dipole field (not entirely stable: the strength can vary over time). On the earth’s surface you see a combination of the two. What we call the magnetic north pole is due to the combination of the two fields, with a change happening in the quadrupole component.

  20. Very elevated swarm starting up at the tip of the Reykjanes ridge.

      • Deep drilling is one thing. But about 200 Quakes because of deep drilling? With several M3?? I’m not sure about that……..

        • I guess the drilling site was chosen on the thinnest crust-magma chamber positions… So that you could expect that there will be some “actions” in the close future.

          Here it is clear for me to answer the “egg/chicken question”.

          Not like the planned and now stopped Swiss high pressure earth-heat power plants in the most risky earthquake areas (Bâle and St. Gallen) which was more likely an act of sabotage then a scientific or economic choose of drill holes positions…

        • I wasn’t suggesting the activity was related to the drilling but only noting that there are buildings and such in the area where the quakes are happening. I zoomed in to see if there were any towns in the area in case of an eruption.

          But now that you mention it, there are quakes in the US around the fracking sites in Oklahoma.

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